Rare setback for feds as robbery suspect is acquitted

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The prosecutor likened them to "Thelma and Louise."

Lisa Marie Stevenson and Melissa Jean Kristobek were two strung-out suburbanites in their 30s who met at a methadone clinic.

Desperate for money to support heroin habits in 2002, they took up robbery, stealing and selling golf equipment from area country clubs, then holding up a Peters dry cleaner and a Charleroi bank, said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Love.

But only Kristobek, 37, of Charleroi, is headed to jail after a federal jury this week rejected her testimony as the chief prosecution witness against Stevenson.

Under a deal with the government, she pleaded guilty last year and fingered her friend as her partner in crime, but the jury on Wednesday acquitted Stevenson, 38, formerly of Finleyville, Washington County.

Federal prosecutors rarely lose at trial, especially in bank robbery cases. But they did this time because jurors didn't believe Kristobek's claim that it was Stevenson who robbed the Citizens Bank on Fallowfield Avenue in Charleroi on July 23, 2002.

A problem for the prosecution was that the bank teller who was robbed said the bandit had "bright blue eyes." Although both women are blonde, Stevenson is the one with blue eyes. But the teller also said that Kristobek looked like the one who held her up.

Stevenson's lawyer, Mark Lancaster, said his client had been in the bank earlier to forge her husband's name on a check, so that might explain why the teller remembered her eyes. But he said Kristobek was the real robber and lied to the jury.

While Stevenson is free, Kristobek, formerly a union electrician, is awaiting sentencing.

She waived indictment and pleaded guilty in May to robbing the bank and McMurray Dry Cleaners three days before. Stevenson pleaded guilty in state court to the dry cleaner holdup and was later indicted for the bank robbery.

After the bank heist, the FBI identified Kristobek as a suspect and she confessed. She later agreed to testify against Stevenson.

Lancaster said, however, that nothing Kristobek said was reliable and the jury discounted her as a credible witness.

She faces a sentencing range of 37 to 46 months, but could get less if the government files a motion on her behalf for her cooperation.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Correction/Clarification: (Published 2/15/05) Lisa Marie Stevenson, who was acquitted of bank robbery, is originally from Finleyville, Washington County, not from Pitcairn.


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